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The Road to Hell Is Paved With Cruel Intentions

MOVIE REVIEW
Drag Me to Hell (2009)

5639_D063_00103R
Melissa Moseley/Universal Studios

“Drag Me to Hell” finds Sam Raimi returning to his schlocky horror roots, forgoing the polished world of the “Spider-Man” franchise for an enthusiastically made, tongue-in-cheek dose of low-budget horror. With a healthy comic sensibility and plenty of boo moments, it confidently evokes the B movies that groomed Mr. Raimi and many of his colleagues.

Still, there’s something missing. The freewheeling spirit that infused “Evil Dead,” which only comes from an artist working completely from the heart, unfettered by the requirements of business or other peripheral influences, is absent here. In many respects, “Drag Me to Hell” feels like the product of an unwieldy amalgamation of the two universes in which Mr. Raimi operates.

On one level, it refuses to take itself seriously, crammed as it is with knowing cheesy scares and sly visual puns. At the same time, Mr. Raimi – who co-wrote the screenplay with his brother Ivan – introduces characters worth caring about, features quality special effects and sets the film in a California world so engulfed in postcard pretty interiors and lavish horror visuals that his messier impulses are subsumed. It’s rare to complain that a film looks too good, that it seems to have cost too much, but the sharp widescreen visuals make one long for the grainier “Evil Dead” style.

Alison Lohman stars as Christine Brown, an impossibly pretty, wholly insecure loan officer desperately seeking some self-respect. She’s having a hard time finding it; her boss at work (David Paymer) seems to favor a new employee (Reggie Lee) over her for a promotion, and the mother of her professor boyfriend Clay Dalton (Justin Long) regards her with open contempt. Thus, Christine jumps at the chance to make the sort of tough decision that stands out to one’s superiors by denying a loan extension to an elderly woman named Mrs. Ganush (Lorna Raver). Needless to say, it backfires. Mrs. Ganush places a gypsy curse on her and soon Christine is tormented by terrible visions, with the promise of being dragged to hell in three days’ time.

Mrs. Ganush, though suitably deranged, is far too evidently an Eastern European caricature to function as an effective villain. Mr. Raimi opts for rattling pots, creaking doors and the shadowy specter of a supernatural demon stalking Christine to serve as his particular brand of terror. There’s never the sort of grimy psychological torment that gets under your skin. The scenes have been staged effectively, and the filmmaker relentlessly hurls his star into the frenzied abyss. Yet there’s a certain steadfast repetitiveness to them. They’re developed and played out in the same rough style, with the tumultuous activity usually culminating in an apparitional form of Mrs. Ganush lunging at Christine and vomiting something onto her.

Had a compelling everyday narrative, or one that sacrificed all real-world pretensions for sheer absurdum, tied together the special effects-heavy sequences, their cyclical nature could have been easier to forgive. Unfortunately, the Raimis expect the audience to become invested in what is ultimately a rather thin overarching conceit – woman sits around waiting to be dragged to hell – and lots of showy comic horror that begins and ends in the same basic fashion. It’s hard to avoid being entertained by “Drag Me to Hell,” but it’s equally hard to avoid feeling like the Sam Raimi who made the “Evil Dead” trilogy has gone the way of the VHS tapes that made it a cult hit.

DRAG ME TO HELL

Opens on May 29 in the United States and on May 27 in Britain.

Directed by Sam Raimi; written by Sam Raimi and Ivan Raimi; director of photography, Peter Deming; edited by Bob Murawski; music by Christopher Young; production designer, Steve Saklad; produced by Rob Tapert and Grant Curtis; released by Universal Pictures (United States) and Lionsgate (Britain). Running time: 1 hour 36 minutes. This film is rated PG-13 by M.P.A.A. and 15 by B.B.F.C.

WITH: Alison Lohman (Christine Brown), Justin Long (Clayton P. Dalton), Lorna Raver (Mrs. Ganush), Dileep Rao (Rham Jas) and David Paymer (Mr. Jacks).

Comments

How Dare you!!!!!!

I will devour your soul!!!

well i guess someone had to ruin the perfect score on rotten tomatoes, and although i respect you for actually having an opinion on this topic you can't expect raimi to digress to his days when he was first jumping behind the camera directing horror. he's had much experience in movie magic since then, and did you really think this was going to hark back to the days of evil dead? personally i'm happy as hell that raimi is making a movie that's anything like classic style horror was, because it sure as hell hasn't been impressive recently (some underground stuff is good, but mainstream horror...you get my drift...). i'm just glad to get to see a horror movie that will be entertaining as well as scary...i mean isn't that why we all loved the evil dead trilogy in the first place? personally i can't wait to see it because it looks like the type of horror movie that you go to have a good time watching,instead of feeling sick and disgusted as you watch someone tortured in disturbing ways like the torture porn films of the past couple of years, or the remake trend happening as well. an actually somewhat original idea in a fun and inventive horror film directed by one of the pioneering directors of horror??? count me in.

Interesting critique, but I have to counter a few points. The reason DMTH doesn't (and would never) have the same vibe as "The Evil Dead" is because ED was an ultra low-budget film made by a group of friends trying to establish themselves as up and coming filmmakers. Since that film and it's immediate sequel, Raimi has risen from his indie roots and become a studio director. You mention "Spiderman"? Hell, you could see the shine of studio polish on his masterful suspense caper "A Simple Plan". Or go back to the third deadite film "Army of Darkness" which - though a lot of fun- didn't have the crazed, anything-goes vibe of the first two ED films, settling instead on a more developed plotline. Personally, I don't have a problem with Raimi giving us a more streamlined horror tale as long as the story entertains and his signature visual style is evident (as various other reviews have assured fans it is). As to the cliched' quality of the gypsy..well, the gypsy curse story is one of the classic horror archetypes. Folk tales about supernatural gypsy vengeance have been passed down either in writing or orally for centuries and based on the look of the villainess in this film, it appears Raimi is winking at the audience by giving us the classic depiction of the "scary gypsy woman". As to the plot being a woman sitting around for three days waiting to be dragged to hell..well congrats, you just assessed some of the better horror films of the past thirty five years. "A Nightmare on Elm Street" had teenagers going to school and hanging out while the heroine deduced the identity of an eventually dealt with the boogeyman. "Halloween" had teenagers hanging out and babysitting while evil on two legs stalked them. "Poltergeist" featured a suburban family living the suburban family lifestyle while eventually coming to the realization that there was a supernatural presence in their home. Ever watched the bits between the cenobite action and Frank's bloodthirst in "Hellraiser"? Just Kirsty and her father leading normal lives. Most movies have periods of common behavior in between the scary parts because thats' what makes the scary parts frightening- they are flying in the face of our expected, mundane existence. I actually give Raimi credit for managing to condense the time frame in his film to three days, unlike that wretched flick "The Ring" which led us on its journey for an entire week.

Well, your review bored me, but I'll give it a 2 out of 5 for pedantry. I expect I'll have a much higher score for Raimi.

Can anyone say Armond White?

I bet you feel great for ruining a perfect score on Rotten Tomatoes. I thought that would be Armond White.

Shouldn't you be reviewing this film by it's self. I just saw the film and I agree it's not as good as any of the Evil Dead movies. But if were going by your logic I shouldn't enjoy James Cameron's "Avatar" because it will not be as good as "Aliens". Maybe you need to review your own critiquing style.

Really odd review. It's like the reviewer enjoyed the movie, but yet he didn't because it doesn't remind him of the Sam Raimi made 'Evil Dead' films..this review really doesn't make much sense.

I do agree with most of the comments concerning this review, though like them, I've yet to see the movie. I especially agree with those that question Mr. Levin's logic of expecting "old school" Sam Raimi to suddenly appear after spending more than a decade working within the studio system, not to mention the 20+ years he's spent polishing his own style.

However, before any more people accuse Mr. Levin of simply writing a "negative" review to burst the film's 100% RT bubble, one thing should be pointed out: Mr. Levin's overall agreement with all the critics on RT is 75%. That's not really a figure that implies pedantry or being contrarian for contrarian's sake (leave that to Rex Reed). In fact, just scrolling through the first 50 reviews listed on Mr. Levin's RT page shows that quite a few of the films he gets credit for calling "negative" are actually 2.5 stars out of 4, which any math whiz (or not, I'm certainly not) will tell you is actually 62.5%. RT's own line of decarmation between fresh and rotten is 60%. Here's the site's own phrasing:

"In order for a movie to receive an overall rating of FRESH, the reading on the Tomatometer for that movie must be at least 60%. Otherwise, it is ROTTEN. Why 60%? We feel that 60% is a comfortable minimum for a movie to be recommended."

So, really, the questions about Mr. Levin's "negative" reviews should be directed squarely at Rotten Tomatoes. Why does a movie have to be 60% to be considered "fresh" but a movie review itself that categorically rates the movie in question higher than 60% (62.5%, in this case) deemed to be "rotten"? As Johnny Cochrane might say: If wookies live on Endor, you must acquit.

I merely bring this up, not to defend Mr. Levin, but to question why anyone would accuse a reviewer of merely attempting to be contrarian, or to somehow bring a movie "down" on the Tomatometer, when there is no evidence to back up this kind of accusation. The internet, we all know, could do with LESS reactionaries. So, why add to the tumult? Why question a person's commitment to their career and their motives, just because you don't agree? Especially when you don't know the man personally and haven't even seen the movie?

Oh, and I hasten to add, that just because my name is also Rob, that does not mean I am, or have any affiliation with, the Robert Levin who wrote this review.

So don't bother accusing me of defending my own review. If I were Mr. Levin, I imagine I would be forthright in defending myself, just like he's doing on RT right now...

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